Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Vote Early, Count Often

By Jonathan Soros
New York Times
New York, New York
30 October 30

THE system we use to select the major-party presidential nominees in this country is badly broken. That New Hampshire may move its primary into 2007 should be evidence enough. But focusing on the absurdity of the primary calendar obscures a problem of greater significance: not all voters are equal. To correct that sad truth we must change the way we select candidates.

The only solution that treats every voter equally would be to establish a true national primary, with every state voting on the same day. Unfortunately, this format would eliminate the essential “retail” politics of small-state primaries and turn the contest into a nasty televised slugfest among the candidates with the most money.

There is, however, a simple way to establish a national primary and yet still allow retail politicking to meaningfully affect the course of the campaign over several months: allow early voting, with regular reporting of the tally.

Here’s one way it could work. Set a national primary date of June 30 and create a window for early voting that opens on Jan. 1. The early votes would be counted and reported at the end of each month from January through May.


Friday, October 26, 2007

New Hampshire's turn as leader may be up

By Roger Simon
24 October 2007

At this point, the presidential nominating calendar for 2008 is more easily deplored than described.

Somebody is going to go first. We know that.

Maybe it will be New Hampshire. Or maybe not.

Maybe New Hampshire will go in December. Or maybe not.

After that, it gets kind of confusing.

I went to the Christian Science Monitor breakfast Wednesday to hear Carl Levin speak.

Levin is the senior Democratic senator from Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and an expert on both foreign and domestic affairs.

He talked very knowledgeably for more than half an hour about Iraq, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, missile defense deployment in Europe, CAFE standards (which, interestingly enough, have nothing to do with cafes) and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

I didn’t pay any attention.

OK, I paid a little attention. I took notes (just in case any of it is on the final), but I had come for something far more important than things like war, peace and the environment.

I had come to hear Levin say bad things about New Hampshire.

Levin hates New Hampshire. Not the people or the foliage, just the fact that New Hampshire holds the first primary in the nation. (Levin also hates Iowa because it holds the first caucus in the nation, but he hates New Hampshire more.)

Levin has argued for years that New Hampshire is a small state that is not representative of the nation and it would make more sense for some other state — Michigan, for instance — to begin the nominating process.

By general agreement, the other 48 states allow New Hampshire and Iowa to go first because when those two states feel threatened, they go absolutely ballistic and vow to halt syrup and ethanol production and possibly form their own nation.



Thursday, October 25, 2007

Primary Season Has Already Passed Us By

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post
Washington, DC
25 October 2007

Any minute now, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will head to the polls and select the presidential candidate who cooked them the best dinner and did the best job ironing their shirts.

The personal attention candidates for the highest office in the land are lavishing on citizens of those two small states -- the wannabes have made, I kid you not, at least 1,448 appearances in Iowa and 691 in New Hampshire this year alone -- contrasts rather sharply with what we get here:

Total appearances by all candidates in Virginia: 40. In Maryland: 16. And most of those were fundraisers for high rollers.

When it comes to picking the nominees for president, Virginia, Maryland and the District have about as much say as Finland.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Republicans Move to Punish 5 Early-Contest States

June Kronholz
Wall Street Journal
New York, New York
22 October 2007

Republicans "always believe in redemption," Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan told reporters today. But barring that, he added, the party will strip New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan and Wyoming of half their convention delegates next summer.

Their sin: scheduling their presidential primaries or caucuses outside the six-month delegate-selection window set by the party in 2004.

Duncan announced the punishment during a break in a party meeting on the "call to convention." That call, which will be issued after the 2007 elections, will detail how many delegates-and votes-each state will be allotted when Republicans hold their national convention in St. Paul, Minn., next Sept. 1-4.

It also comes amid weeks of confusion and one-upmanship as a few states have attempted to raise their visibility and importance in the presidential-selection process by leapfrogging ahead of each other. As a result, the primary calendar is still in flux just weeks before the first votes are expected.

Republicans agreed at their 2004 convention that states should hold their primaries and caucuses between Feb. 5 and July 28, 2008. States voting outside that window were to lose half their delegates, a threat that hasn't deterred some. As it is, Wyoming will hold a delegate-selection convention on Jan. 5; Michigan will hold a primary on Jan. 15; South Carolina's Republican primary is Jan. 19 and Florida's primary is Jan. 29. New Hampshire, determined to retain its first-in-the-nation claim, hasn't set a primary date yet.

Iowa's Jan. 3 Republican caucus seems safe because it's not much more than a presidential beauty contest; delegates will be chosen at a party convention in June. Nevada's Jan. 19 caucus is in the same boat.

The party won't bring down its wrath on candidates who want to campaign in those five states-unlike the Democratic candidates, who have pledged not to campaign in any state that has jumped the party gun.

It's not too late for states to reschedule their contests and retain the delegates, Duncan added. The end may be near, but all could be forgiven, he added.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Starting Gate: Not Waiting For ’08?

By Vaughn Ververs
17 October 2008

Now that we can start making our plans for New Year’s Eve, it’s time to think about where we’re going to be spending Thanksgiving. Dixville Notch anyone?

Iowa Republicans have made the decision to move their caucuses up from January 3rd, a week and a half earlier than previously planned. Iowa Democrats could follow or keep theirs at the original January 14th date. Now, the ball is in New Hampshire’s court and that means Secretary of State Bill Gardner. He alone has the power under state law to set the primary date and he’s making it clear that the possibility of moving it to December is no idle threat.

Moves by Michigan, South Carolina, Nevada and Florida have complicated the primary process for New Hampshire and Iowa to the point that making such a drastic move may be the best way to ensure the traditional roles Iowa and New Hampshire have become accustomed to. Gardner could decide to set the primary date for January 8th but that may not be acceptable from his perspective.

First, Wyoming Republicans have scheduled their nominating convention for January 5th, and the 8th would technically leave New Hampshire as the third contest. Practically speaking however, Wyoming appears to pose little threat to New Hampshire’s importance in the process. When’s the last time we saw a campaign ad in Cheyenne? A more important consideration may be space and time.

Holding the primaries on the 8th (putting it by rule a full week before the Michigan primary) means that candidates, at least on the Republican side, will have just five dasy in between Iowa and New Hampshire instead of having a full week or more. And that means less time, attention and money flowing into the state. Campaigns and the hordes of media that follow them spend hundreds of millions in the state each four years and a sizable chunk of it comes in the week or two leading up to the primary. If the state becomes sandwiched in between other contests, it may mean all that is literally here today, gone tomorrow.

Holding the primary in December (Gardner has hinted at a date as early as the 11th) could once again put the state in the center of the political universe for a sustained period of time – from Thanksgiving to the primary date. The state would literally be the only game in town unless Iowa Republicans sought to move again, something they’ve said they will not do.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Primary mystery proves curiouser and curiouser

By Paul West
Baltimore Sun
Baltimore, Maryland
17 October 2008

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'

'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'

When it comes to nonsense, Lewis Carroll’s got nothing on the folks who are bringing you the ‘08 campaign.

How about staging a nomination campaign before you know when the elections will be? The candidates have no choice.

Consider: With wide-open races in both parties, the Republican and Democratic contenders have spent the past several years traveling the country, raising and spending tens of millions of dollars in pursuit of the presidency. They’ve aired thousands of TV ads already, put hundreds of advisers and field workers on the payroll and participated in countless debates, forums, TV interviews, webcasts and grassroots events.

And yet, none of the candidates, at this very late date, knows when the first vote will be cast. That’s a rather significant problem, one that greatly complicates their efforts to devise a winning strategy.

Is the first primary two and a half months away? Or will it be in a matter of a few weeks? Will the big states of Michigan and Florida stage showdowns in January? Or, if they are only symbolic "beauty contests," will they matter?

How about little Iowa and New Hampshire, whose symbiotic relationship has outsized influence on the final outcome? Remember Howard Dean’s scream last time? The one-time frontrunner howled in Iowa and was effectively finished, eight days later, when he failed to take New Hampshire. This time, those two states are likely to be closer together than ever before, with unpredictable consequences.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

States' presidential primary process flawed

By Ron Eachus
Salem Statesman-Journal
Salem, Oregon
15 October 2007

States are acting crazy. Like children shoving and pushing to get to the front of the line, they've been rearranging their presidential primaries and creating a chaotic process even more dependent on finding the big bucks to win the big states.

The nominating process traditionally starts with the January New Hampshire primary -- which, under that state's law, must be seven days before any similar election -- and the Iowa caucuses. The Democratic and Republican parties have allowed Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primaries before Feb. 5 to add more diversity to the early process.

This year, jealous states began leapfrogging. Florida moved to Jan. 29. South Carolina Republicans jumped to Jan. 19 to be the first in the South, so New Hampshire had to move up at least a week.

Michigan then moved to Jan. 15. Wyoming Republicans jumped to the front by moving to Jan. 5. California and New Jersey moved to Feb. 5, when 20 states now will hold primaries or caucuses.

Many of these moves are contrary to Democratic and Republican party rules.

The Democratic National Committee says it won't seat delegates from Florida and Michigan. Florida Democrats are suing the party.

The major Democratic candidates have pledged not to campaign in Michigan, and all but Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., have taken their names off the ballot.

The Republican National Committee also is threatening sanctions against Florida, Michigan, Wyoming and South Carolina.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Primary Calendar: What A Mess

By Domenico Montanaro
17 October 2007

Believe it or not, we're inside of 80 days and the candidates still don't know when all of the January (or even December) election days are going to be. Last night, this is what we learned:
-- Iowa Republicans will hold their caucuses Jan. 3
-- South Carolina Democrats will hold their primary Jan. 26
-- Nevada Democrats will hold their caucuses Jan. 19.

Here's what we don't know:
-- will the Iowa Democrats join the Iowa Republicans on Jan. 3?
-- will the New Hampshire primary accept being on Jan. 8, or somehow jump into December and risk some candidates skipping the contest?
-- will the two parties have two different January calendars? As it stands now, Republicans could start on Jan. 3 in Iowa, head to Wyoming for a Jan. 5 caucus, travel to New Hampshire for the Jan. 8 primary, then participate in a Jan. 15 Michigan primary, a Jan. 19 South Carolina primary and end in Florida on Jan. 29. The Democrats are ONLY committed to participating in contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, with Iowa and South Carolina on different January days from the Republicans.
-- If Iowa Democrats are convinced that by going the 14th, they’ll preserve their first-in-the-nation status for 2012 and 2016, they'll do, mark our words on this one.


Friday, October 12, 2007

December Primary in New Hampshire? It's His Call

Secretary of State Alone Will Decide, But He's Not Saying

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post
Washington, DC
12 October 2007

The New Hampshire primary, crowded by other wannabe primaries and caucuses, may be shifted from January to an unprecedented date in early December. It all depends on the calculations of one man.

"I have a lot of discretion," said Bill Gardner, the 16-term secretary of state of New Hampshire, who is invested with what amounts to dictatorial power to set the date under state law. "We are prepared, if it needs to be early December, it can be early December."



Monday, October 08, 2007

The presidential primary scam

Why the game is rigged, and why true democracy is only a secondary factor in the nation's rush to nominate the next president.

By Michael Scherer
8 October 2007

It's far worse than you think -- worse than hanging chads, faulty Diebold machines, and billionaires who bankroll last-minute attack ads. The American system for nominating a presidential candidate has about as much in common with actual democracy as Donald Duck has with a lake mallard. It's not just that this year's primaries have been further front-loaded, or that the early primary states aren't representative of the nation at large. There is only passing fairness. There is only the semblance of order. There is nothing like equal representation under the law.

The whole stinking process was designed by dead men in smoky parlors and refined by faceless bureaucrats in hotel conference rooms. It is a nasty brew born of those caldrons of self-interest known as political parties. At every stage, advantage is parceled out like so much magic potion. "The national interest is not considered in any form," says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "Everything is left up to an ad hoc decision. It's chaotic."

That is not an exaggeration. Consider this: If you are a Republican, your vote for the presidential nominee will be worth more in Tennessee than in New York. If you are a Democrat, your vote in the primary will not count in Florida and is unlikely to count in Michigan. If you are a Republican in Wyoming, you probably won't get to vote at all, since only party officials have a say.

And it gets worse. This election cycle, a top Democratic candidate shaking someone's hand in Miami before the end of January is breaking the rules, unless that someone is handing the candidate a check at the same time. To put it another way, Democrats' communicating with voters has been barred in Florida, but taking money from voters is OK. To put it a third way, the system is not only irrational but offensive to the nation's most basic values. "The only way that you can hear a candidate campaign is if you are willing to pay a campaign contribution," explains Steven Geller, Florida's exasperated state Senate Democratic leader. "It is astounding."


Friday, October 05, 2007

The Myth of the Rational Iowa Voter

By Paul Waldman
3 October 2007

Do the supposedly wise and deliberative citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire take their responsibilities seriously? And if they don't, what does that say about the way we're choosing the next leader of the free world?

In the past week or so, lots of wise and serious commentators have started to say that Hillary Clinton's victory in the Democratic presidential primaries is all but inevitable. She is repeatedly described as having "solidified her lead," not only because of her strength in national polls, but due to the fact that she now leads in New Hampshire by a healthy margin and is in a virtual three-way tie in Iowa. And after all, we know Iowa and New Hampshire voters aren't fickle like those in some other states. They're serious and studious, applying their down-home common sense and refusing to vote for anyone unless they look them in the eye and get a sense of the person behind the politician.

It seems like just yesterday that the reporters and pundits who live for the quadrennial marathon of pandering and debasement that is the campaign for the White House were complaining that things were starting way too early. The first primary contests were over a year away, they groaned, yet the candidates were already tromping through the early states, forcing themselves upon us like dinner party guests who show up at noon when the table isn't set and the food is half-cooked. Yet now that some actual votes are but a few months away, reporters are ready to declare the race all but over.

If there is any consolation, we are told, it is that the wise and deliberative citizens of the early states take their responsibilities so seriously. But do they really? And if they don't, what does that say about the way we're choosing the next leader of the free world?